A few weeks ago, I was in El Paso, Texas, for one of our Chick-fil-A Leader Academy kick-off events. Our company, ADDO, works with Chick-fil-A to put on Chick-fil-A Leader Academy, a high school program dedicated to building up leaders that impact their local communities. This year, the program exists in more than 700 high schools in 35 states across the country.
At each school’s kick-off event, students participate in a program to pack meals for hungry people in their community. We provide each student with the tools to pack a lentil casserole and work with Feeding Children Everywhere to distribute the meals in the same community as the school, giving students a taste of local impact.
This particular kick-off event at Eastwood High School was unique because the school invited a representative from their local food bank to come and share his story. The leadership at the school thought this would be an interesting extra touch to engage students.
Before the event started, I was shaking hands, meeting people, and trying to make conversation with students, teachers, and leaders of the program. I made a point to meet the representative from the food bank, but he didn’t seem very interested in talking to me. In fact, he was kind of cold and really kept to himself before the event began. I walked away from this brief interaction and made two judgments about this man:
- He’s not very nice.
- He’s not going to be an engaging speaker.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
In the few minutes that he spoke that day, he impacted the students’ lives and radically changed my own perspective of the work we were doing. He started by pointing out the way the students were sitting at tables in groups of four. He explained that one out of four children in their community goes to bed hungry every night. He detailed the extent of the hunger need in their city and put things in perspective for the students, sharing that the meals they packed that day might end up in the homes of some of their classmates. He asked, “Can you imagine trying to stay focused in school on an empty stomach?” His message was personal and powerful.
At the end of his talk, he started to walk off stage but stopped for a moment. It was clear that what he was about to say wasn’t planned. He asked, “How many of you in this room are 15 years old?”
He watched a group of hands go up throughout the crowd and nodded. Holding back tears, he said, “I grew up in this community, and when I was 15 years old, I was homeless. It’s because of people like you that I’m standing here today, and it’s why I work to give back through this organization.”
My perspective of this man completely changed. I realized that he was more reserved because what he was about to say to these students was important. To him, this wasn’t just a service project. This is work that changed his own life, and he knew it was an opportunity to change someone else’s.
Every single person you meet has a story. Like this food bank representative, we all have a past that has shaped us and made us who we are today.
So before we rush to judge people by their appearance or demeanor, let’s stop and think.
Maybe the cashier at the grocery store seems impatient because she needs to wrap up her shift to make it to her second job.
Maybe your coworker seems anti-social because he doesn’t want to talk about his issues at home.
Maybe the woman at church forgot your name again because she has a newborn and is functioning on little sleep.
Maybe your boss is short with you today because he is frustrated with a big mistake he made in an important presentation earlier.
Maybe the student failing your class is having trouble focusing because she is hungry.
Let’s open our eyes, be more slow to judge, and more eager to learn the stories of the people around us.
You’ll find that it’s nearly impossible to not love someone once you know their story.
It’s nearly impossible to not love someone once you know their story. @KevinPaulScott
This week, work to learn the stories of the people around you. This intentionality will make you more eager to care than to judge, and as a result, you’ll spend less time focusing on yourself and more time looking out for the needs of others.